By Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
It might be sorta odd to cast one of the founding members of a famous superhero team as a loner. You’re always going to have your Raphaels, or your Wolverines, characters that bristle at the thought of getting too chummy with their teammates, but always end up affirming the value of teamwork before the issue is through. Black Bolt is a different animal entirely; separated from his people by the nobility of his birth and his inability to communicate, he may genuinely be more content to walk the world alone. Black Bolt 11 teases an origin for this misanthropic streak while also testing its strength.
Writer Saladin Ahmed is careful to only characterize Black Bolt as a determined, if ultimately doomed, warrior. The rest of the cast, including Blinky, Titania, and even Ahura, get moments to express fear, confusion, self-doubt, love. But Black Bolt is limited to expressing his physical struggle for survival, and even the narration stays focused on the conflict between The Jailer and him. Artist Christian Ward, who is so fucking good at staging these epic duels, reduces these characters to the marquee poster advertising their championship bout.
It’s all incredibly cool, but profoundly impersonal. Both Ahura and Titania say that Black Bolt has never and will never ask for help, and that seems to extend to his motivations. The narration offers some insight into Black Bolt’s mindset here, which continually doubles down on Black Bolt’s need to just rally and fight this thing on his own.
But why would we believe in the strength of the lone wolf when the rest of the issue repeatedly delivers unlikely reunions? Blink and Ahura team up on the astral plane, and while it’s not clear why or how, it is clear that they draw strength and understanding from each other. And then there’s the most unlikely reunion: Titania and Crusher (who, by the way, was buried like two issues ago). That’s strength in numbers, and we can already see the ledger rebalancing itself in favor of Black Bolt.
That is… if he’s willing to accept it. Ahura and Blinky visit a sliver of Black Bolt’s past, witnessing the barbaric practices of Old Atillanian royalty. Black Bolt’s physical strength and powers were all discovered and/or activated by his parents isolating him, torturing him, and experimenting on him. For Black Bolt, the link between pain and strength is immutable.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?